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Victorian Christmas on the Farm

I watched Victorian Farm Christmas last night, which is a follow on to the successful and watchable Victorian Farm
The original series was more of a documentary which kept the fact the stars of the show were actually in the 21st century obvious. This program was unashamedly hiding that, everyone who appeared on screen was in costume.

There’s a nod to historical re-enactment but this was a nostalgia fest. Now I have to admit I thoroughly enjoyed it and was fascinated by the methods employed in the Victorian era. I love re-watching The Victorian Kitchen Garden as well, for the same reasons.

It got me to thinking about nostalgia. Even now we laud “Dig for Victory” as if it was some golden age of vegetable gardening. The truth is sadly different and “traditional” is really quite nonsensical in many ways when applied to farming and gardening.

The Victorians were great innovators. They lived in a time of great change, the industrial revolution was in full swing and farm labourers had left the land to live in tiny back to back terraced houses, working 12 hour days, 6 days a week. This had caused a shortage of agricultural labourers so machinery was developed to improve efficiency.

Reacting to the lack of labour the Victorian farmer had to innovate. Horse drawn equipment could do the job of a man in a far shorter time. So to survive, the farmer had to invest in the latest technologies.

If life was really so idyllic, why would those labourers have moved to the town? The answer, of course, is that life was worse on the land. It was a never ending round of gruelling hard work.

Vegetable gardening, as in The Victorian Kitchen Garden, was also hard work and depended on cheap labour held down in a class system that appears feudal when we look at it from today – without the rose tinted glasses.

Even before the Great War took men away to be mown down by machine guns, those Victorians were looking for more efficient ways to grow crops. They invented artificial fertilisers and pesticides, which enabled them to grow more for less effort and manpower. These were exciting new innovations, on a par with genetic engineering. Latest, cutting-edge technology.

Now we have the benefit of a much better understanding of the environment, we know how things can interact and the downside of applying those fertilisers and pesticides without care. We also have the benefit of the correct application of them.

We have the benefit of breeding programs that have produced disease resistant, high yielding and tasty crops, as well as heritage varieties from yesteryear if we want.

So, by all means enjoy the nostalgia but don’t fall for the myth that ‘traditional’ was better. After all, you’re reading this on a computer – would you really like to swap for a traditional Sinclair ZX?

Posted in Rants and Raves

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